Adapting to Death in the Family

I am often asked how to grieve when someone dies in their family. Most people want to get through the grief process as fast as possible, because of the great deal of emotional pain that you experience when a relationship ends. Some individuals want to express all the emotions they are experiencing in hopes that they will get through their grief faster. And others try to distract their self from the pain or deny the loss’ impact on their family.

While I think it’s important to explore how the individual adapts to the loss of having this person in their life, it is just as important to explore how the family as a whole deals with the loss. Families vary in their ability to manage stressful events and emotionality.

Some losses have profound impact on how a family functions day to day, like in the death of parent in a young family. As anxiety increases in the family about future loss, heightened stress, and leadership changes, how does one get comfortable enough to explore and learn from these changes in the family?

Dr. Anne McKnight, Director of the Bowen Center for the Family, shares a different way of looking at death in the family beyond how one individual is coping. Dr. McKnight shares that the “death of an individual changes how a family operates.” To hear the 30-minute interview with Dr. Anne McKnight on how a family reacts and reorganizes itself after the death of a loved one, watch this:


While families vary in their ability to deal with stress, changes, and emotionality, the death can have a ripple effect for years to come. Prior to the loss, a family may have dealt with a stressor or symptom calmly, but now the family may be on high alert for future real or perceived threats.

The more aware one is that the death is having an impact on how they deal with everyday stressors, the more choices it opens up for how one adapts and moves forward. Awareness can also bring opportunities when a person felt stuck prior to the loss. For some, it is a natural time to re-evaluate their life, relationships, and goals.

So there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve, just what works for you while taking a look at the whole picture. As you and your family try to adapt to the loss, it’s important to consider the role of the deceased person before their death and how the family deals with the relationship disruption over time. It’s natural to want to prevent loss and disruptions, just as it is to try to deal with the challenges we are dealt throughout life.


Subscribe to Family Matters on You Tube to hear more thoughtful interviews. The mission of the Bowen Center is “to assist families in solving major life problems through understanding and improving human relationships.”

And if you would like to explore how you and your family are adapting to the emotional wave of death of a loved one, you can schedule an appointment with Marci in Kansas City MO area or online either via “Skype” or Talkspace.

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